Medicine is prescribed to help you. But it can harm you if you take too much or mix medicines that don't go together. Many people are harmed each year, sometimes seriously, because of taking the wrong prescription drugs or not taking these medications correctly. A new report from the Institute of Medicine estimates that there is at least one medication error per hospital patient per day, with error rates varying widely across facilities. Although not all errors lead to injury or death, the number of preventable injuries - 1.5 million - is staggering. The extra medical costs of treating drug-related injuries occurring in hospitals alone is estimated at $3.5 billion, which does not take into account lost wages, productivity, or additional health care costs.
The good news is that new computerized systems for prescribing drugs show promise for reducing the number of drug-related mistakes. Electronic prescribing is safer because it eliminates problems with handwriting legibility and alerts prescribers to possible interactions, allergies, and other potential problems. The GIC is actively involved in a number of efforts to bring electronic prescribing to the Commonwealth. However, statewide electronic prescribing is a few years off.
You can help reduce your own risk for medication errors. You can alert your health care team (and family members if you are incapacitated) of all the prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal and dietary supplements you are taking, their dosage and any side effects or allergies you may have.
Two pages in the fall 2006 newsletter , developed from materials supplied by the Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors , a coalition of health care professionals committed to reducing medical mistakes, will help you to avoid medication errors:
- Print the two pages and fill them out completely.
- Use it to ensure that you thoroughly understand the medications you take - who prescribed it, what is the dose, when do you take it, what's its purpose, what are possible side effects, and other factors to consider.
- Update it each time you are prescribed a new prescription.
- Make sure to give each doctor you see an updated copy - consider giving family members a copy so that they can act as an informed advocate for you in the event you are incapacitated.
Being an active member of your own health care team is the single most important way you can stay healthy. For additional steps you can take, visit the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website.
Save $$$: Don't forget to give your doctor a copy of your health plan's prescription drug formulary. Discuss with your doctor whether the drugs with lower co-payments are appropriate for you.
This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission .